What can beta leaks tell us about upcoming games?

Tobold posted today about a site hoping to be for MMO gaming what Wikileaks is for the real world — a way for players in the betas for upcoming games to alert people to potential problems in the game.

These sorts of leaks can be useful — news that a game is a horribly buggy entirely unfinished travesty a la Dark & Light can warn a publisher to put a game back in the oven for a bit.

A quick reading of Betaleaks’ coverage of Warhammer: Age of Reckoning and Age of Conan shows mostly that both these games are being actively tuned, and that most of the objections to both are extremely subjective.

Warhammer has two posts of note; one from August 2007, which shows a rough game still very much in development; and one from January 2008 that shows incredible progress and incremental tuning of public quests, PvP, and PvP vs PvE rewards. Most every detail, though, is subjective. They don’t like the art style. Combat is too repetitive. PvP is dominated by griefers and solo PvP is not a viable option. It’s too much like WoW…

(And a note to Warhammer fans: as much as this game strives not to be compared to WoW, the rest of the world will be making that exact comparison. So suck it up and deal with it. This game will be marked a success or a failure almost entirely on how it either competes or complements the WoW experience.)

When you get down to subjective matters — if that’s all you can say about the game — then you’ve lost me, because you and I like different things. Many people don’t like EverQuest 2; but I do. Though I played World of Warcraft for awhile, in the end I found it dull and grindy — and yet millions of people feel exactly the opposite about it. People dismiss Vanguard out of hand, but I think it has a little geeky charm. Some people are slavering over Age of Conan, but I don’t think its twitchy gameplay and pandering to the Xbox Live “blood, guts and boobies” crowd will do it for me.

The very fact that both AoC and Warhammer are still in closed beta should be a sign that things are still changing too much, too fast, to make real judgments. It’s probably best if beta players who, after all, signed NDAs, honored their commitment to them and made sure the developers know about their problems with the game so they can do something about them.

When the NDA drops or open beta begins — that’s the time to come forth and say, hey, I told them about all this in beta, they did nothing, here’s all the dope about it. It’s at that time that the devs have invited the world to see what they’ve done in a nearly finished state, when they’re proud of what they made, and they want you to do your worst.

Age of Conan should be going to open beta in a couple of weeks. Closed beta testers — tell Funcom what you don’t like about the game! Breaking NDAs just encourages devs to be more and more suspicious of the people they let into their beta, limiting its effectiveness.

I’m the kind of player who seems never to get into closed betas, so naturally I read every shred of information about upcoming games I’m interested in. And just like everyone else, I distrust what marketing people say about their game by reflex. I’m sure nearly every player in the world knows enough to be skeptical of pre-release claims. So when I read that EA/Mythic has tuned public quests from too easy to too hard, I just hope that the beta players let EA/Mythic know before they blurted this all out on public forums.

When you sign an NDA, you are making a pact with a company that you KNOW you will be seeing an unfinished game with placeholder assets, broken things, crashes, unbalanced elements, and all that sort of stuff. You agree to find these things and try to help the company make the game better so that everything works well, is playable and fun, by the time they throw open the doors to the public.

If you don’t feel this is the sort of thing you can do — don’t sign the NDA, don’t play the beta, and just wait to play it in its finished form just like the rest of us.

Betaleaks — bad idea.

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13 thoughts on “What can beta leaks tell us about upcoming games?”

  1. I miss the old days of DOS games where noone was ever disappointed with their final product. You either liked the game or you didn’t, and there really didn’t need to be a reason for it. Often times it was as simple as “I don’t like that genre”.

    Oh, to live in those simpler days again! Before the ravages of the PVP mentality.

  2. Geeky charm? Vanguard? My god, my whole life makes sense now.

    I….I’m a….geek? IM A GEEK!!!!

  3. If beta testers want to help out, then be active about providing feedback and providing the devs with your experience. It’s entirely possible that their vision (lower-case ‘v’ :grin: ) for the game is flat-out different than what you want. That’s no excuse to break the NDA and show yourself to have little or no honor whatsoever by disclosing closed beta information “for the better of the buying public.” Yeah, right. News flash: no one is BUYING a closed beta product. Closed beta builds change, and they change rapidly.

    Really want to help the “buying public?” Save all your notes from start of your beta experience to open beta *then* put it out there. Better yet, save it for launch day.

  4. When it comes to testing I too have to endure the frustration of being on the outside looking in. I was on a beta test hot streak, starting with EQ1 and getting in on every MMO test after (AO, AC, Camelot) up until about EQ2, and then POOF nothing since.

    Have I mentioned how annoyed it makes me that I signed up for the Conan pre-release forum about 3.5 years ago, participated heavily in the discussions for about 6 months, and have read their stupid newsletter every month with its “Apply for the beta!” link glowing in my face DESPITE the fact that I have BEEN SIGNED UP for years now with no invitation.

    Everything I try to apply for these days gives me a “hey you big dolt, that email address is already signed up!” Oh my bad, I must have forgot signing up–my pre-9/11 era memory is a little hazy. Meanwhile it seems everyone and their mother is testing AoC or Warhammer and knows exactly what they’re going to buy, not buy, or ignore and go back to WoW. I know tests aren’t supposed to be a try before you buy, but if I want to check out any of these new games in 08 I’m going to have to pay $60 just to get my foot in the door, and then my purchase adds to their “Copies Sold” boasting rights regardless of whether I subscribe past my free month. Serenity NOW!

  5. I’m sure there will be open betas for both games.

    But if you REALLY want to get into closed betas, I’ve been assured the following is the way to do it.

    1) Harvest multiple DXDiag.txts from the Internet, so you can send them a wide range of hardware configurations and hopefully have one or more that fit the specs they want to test.

    2) Make a bunch of throwaway email addresses, and apply a few hundred times, giving different DXDiags.

    3) NEVER tell them you have a blog or work for a gaming site. Apparently some companies will call you “press” just for having a blog. I don’t think this is what caught me up, but it’s just astounding that anyone would call someone press for having a blog talking about the games they are playing. Sheesh.

    4) Participate a lot on their open forums. I mean, a LOT. Two or three posts a day should do it. Start a guild on the forums. Write stories about your character. For bonus points, get into a forum war with another guild, leave your guild in protest and start another guild only for hardcore players — all before you ever even see the game. Also, make a cool Photoshop forum signature with your character, class and server.

    5) Learn the names of the devs, and always refer to them by their names or handles (referring to game developers as the collective “devs” is a no-no.)

    Anyway. I just apply once per beta, and I’ve been looking for my beta invites to AoC, Warhammer and Chronicles of Spellborn now for, oh, at least a year now. But that’s okay. What really bugs me is not being considered for beta invites to games for which I have been a tireless advocate and huge fan. I’m an easy sell! Unfortunately, my forum surfing has pretty much nose-dived since I started blogging.

  6. You always are so provocative when you write…get everyone riled up …(Vanguard = Geek, AoC = Boobies and WAR = WoW….HAHA)…good stuff

    I tell you what, when I got into Closed Beta for Gods and Heroes, it took all of my might to not scream everywhere “OMG this sucks”…it was a horrible mess, and each time the server came up (2-3 days a week if even that…was laughable) and a new patch went in…it got worse…
    I really wanted to believe they could do it though…make it good, as it had some great qualities…but, all I could think was “I hope Bioware can take this engine they bought and make something better…”…yes, now Bioware is sitting on this crap…

    LOTRO was another game where I wanted to yell and fight. We constantly asked in the forums to fix this or that issue, and they coddled us…
    Then deleted all the posts when moving from phase 1 to phase 2…not normal indeed. And all the issues we yelled about still existed…truly sad (and yes…those issues are still there as of today…well 2 weeks ago when I ran a trial as someone noted an item being fixed which was a gripe of mine…and no it was not..)

    If these beta boards could be left alone, and instead the Dev’s take it upon themselves to peruse and find the issues which are most on the players/testers mind…maybe their game could rock…so, I for one, do not have an issue with them…as I take everything they say with a grain of salt anyways…but, maybe those Dev’s could learn a thing or two…

    And as for AoC…I am really looking forward to those …uh…decapitations…yup…uhm, hum!

  7. Well, sounds like Perpetual listened to you all about Gods and Heroes. The buzz coming off that game was horrid. Not as bad as Dark & Light was, but I was getting worried about it. That sounds like a win for the beta process there. They canned the game rather than release it.

    Re: LotRO — I was in the open beta for that. They locked everyone to a level fifteen cap, though, so nobody knew how little there was to look forward to (at the time) past that level. So was is it a true open beta if you could only go to the places they’d finished?

    And hey, I don’t try to provoke people, I just call ’em like I see ’em :) If the AoC or WAR devs want to show me something different, well, my beta apps are in their trash bins.

  8. Based on the posts on that site I would say that Age of Conan is better off then Warhammer right now though that could just be because it doesn’t have as much hype to live up to.

  9. Maybe, but that says little about what they are about to change/fix/tune, and this is why people should honor their NDAs instead of shoot for their fifteen seconds of fame by writing up their subjective opinions and breaking their promise not to do so. I think ANY game will come out poorly at some points in beta — and I would *hope* for that. It shows they are trying lots of things and seeing what is fun and what fails before they settle on their perfect game mechanic. I’m far more inclined to listen to word about game-breaking issues (like, this game runs like a dog on every system and crashes twelve times an hour) than opinions on what is good or bad about the game design, since that can change quickly.

  10. I worry more about games if there are too few NDA breakers. It is usually a sign the beta is too small to really test anything. AoC is due in 2 months, should be lots of people complaining everywhere, even if just nitpicking. Maybe it’s a sign the game is too good and they don’t want to risk being kicked out but I’m not believing that.

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